Baldwin makes section statement with win over Upper St. Clair

Thursday, January 18, 2024 | 10:54 PM

Over the last decade, the Mt. Lebanon or Upper St. Clair boys basketball teams have won outright or earned a share of the section championship for 10 straight years.

Following a big road win Thursday, you can call Baldwin the new kids on the section-leader block.

The Highlanders led for most of the game and held on to beat Class 6A top-ranked Upper St. Clair, 55-54.

The loss ended the Panthers’ 16-game home section winning streak that dated to 2020.

“We respect everything Upper St. Clair has done, everything Mt. Lebanon has done, they’ve both been the leaders of this section for years,” Baldwin coach Jeff Ackermann said. “We respect them and we want to be where they are and have a bunch of section (championship) banners. We haven’t had one for 38 years at Baldwin.”

The Baldwin win forces a three-way tie for first place in Section 2-6A with Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon with all three teams sitting at 4-1 atop the section.

“We like where we are right now,” Ackermann said. “We have a team that can beat anybody. We’re not scared of anybody, but we’re a team that just can’t show up. We need to play hard to win games. We really wanted it (Thursday). They battled, but we deserved it.”

The Highlanders got off to a good start with a patient half-court offense. Junior Matt Schenk hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter and junior Nate Wesling scored eight of his 12 points in the second quarter as Baldwin led at the break, 28-21.

“We like to push and we like to attack,” Ackerman said of the highest-scoring team in 6A. “We like to dribble drive and (6-foot-9 junior Tyler Robbins) is so big and such a good shot blocker that you just can’t drive at him, so we worked on it for five days.”

Schenk scored eight of his game-high 16 points in the third quarter for Baldwin. It was in the third quarter, however, when Highlanders senior Nate Richards left the game with four fouls.

Upper St. Clair used full-court pressure to force some turnovers and Robbins started to do damage on the blocks, scoring nine of his 15 points in the second half.

Ackermann rolled the dice and started the fourth quarter with Richards on the floor with four fouls.

“He’s my guy and we’ve been through a lot together,” Ackerman said. “He’s so good and so skilled and such a warrior, I wanted to give him the opportunity.”

USC took its first lead of the game with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, 47-45.

With the score tied at 47-47 one minute later, Schenk went in for a breakaway layup and missed. The Panthers transitioned and junior Julian Dahlem scored and was fouled by Richards, who left the game for good with 3:33 remaining.

Baldwin sophomore Max Marzina drilled a 3-pointer with 2:50 left to tie the game, but it was Richards’ replacement off the Baldwin bench who hit the biggest shot of the game.

Junior Jaden Duttine hit a go-ahead 3-pointer from the left wing with just over a minute remaining in the game to put Baldwin up, 55-52.

“What a monster 3 for us,” Ackermann said. “That really won the game for us. He didn’t play a ton and for him to even take that shot, I’m really proud of him.”

Upper St. Clair had one more chance, but after calling a timeout with eight seconds remaining, instead of shooting a 3 for the tie, Dahlem drove to the hoop and dumped it to junior Kaamil Jackson, who scored on a layup with under two seconds left to pull the Panthers to within one point.

Following another timeout, the Baldwin inbounds pass was deflected and came to Robbins, whose desperate shot from the corner was no good at the buzzer.

“Baldwin made big shots when they needed to,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “Give them credit. “It was a great section battle between two good teams.”

Robbins and Jackson led USC with 15 points each as the Panthers fell to 10-4 overall and saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end.

Baldwin has won four straight games and improves to 11-3 overall.

“We’re not scared or intimidated by anybody,” Ackermann said. “We want to win the section, get a home playoff game and go from there. Nothing has been achieved, but with five games left, we have an opportunity and that’s all I can ask for.”

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